Google Spreadsheets for Peer Review and Grading

Anyone familiar with my blog posts is aware that I like using Google tools. They are a rich resource that costs next to nothing. The only cost is that you must create a Google account, which worries some people and understandably so; however, it does not worry me as I assume that all of my students are already on the Net regularly, many if not most already have a Google account, and using Google tools gives me an excellent opportunity to discuss online etiquette, privacy, and security—issues that I take most seriously.

I am always finding new ways to use Google tools in my college writing classes. More and more, I’m using Google Spreadsheets as an approach to peer evaluation and review. It works very well for my students and me, and I think it will work well for you, too.

First, I believe in peer review of writing. I strongly believe that students learn more from reviewing the writing of others than they do from me reviewing their own writing. They are often surprised at how adept they are at distinguishing between skillful writing and not-so-skillful writing. They may not know the name of a grammatical or stylistic error, but they do know what doesn’t sound right, and they can make useful suggestions about how to write it better. As I’m teaching written communications rather than grammar, this places the focus of the class where I want it: on producing better writing.

Next, I find it useful to use evaluation rubrics, both for peer review and for grading. I’m required by my school to award grades, and I find a clear, concise rubric beneficial in helping my students understand how their writing is assessed and why they received a certain grade. The rubric gives the students and me a common vocabulary and set of concepts to talk about their writing. It also gives the students a consistent framework for their reviews; thus, I have my students use the same rubric for peer reviews that I will use for grading. Not only does this provide a more consistent review from student to student, but it also teaches the students how their own documents will be graded.

This is strong for them and for me. Though familiarity with the grading rubric can lead to some very strong and pointed objections to my assessment of their writing, I take this as the best indication that my students are engaged and learning. There is no learning without engagement, and arguing for a grade can be most engaging.

There is no learning without engagement, and arguing for a grade can be most engaging.

I begin by creating a rubric in Google Spreadsheet to match each student’s Google Document shared with me. The rubrics are by default set to Private, which means that they can not be viewed save by those with whom I share them. All private Google docs have four levels of rights:

  1. Owner: Automatically assigned to the creator of the document and it includes full rights to delete the document and to share and set rights for others. Ownership can be transferred by the original owner, but I don’t do that with rubrics—ever.
  2. Edit: can edit the document, but not delete it. May be able to share and set rights for others.
  3. Comment: can view the document and leave comments, but can make no changes and cannot share the document.
  4. View: can view the document, but can leave no comments, make no editorial changes, and cannot further share the document.

Rubric Invitation

Though the students are the owners of their Google Documents and I am merely a sharemate with editorial rights, I retain ownership of the rubrics for security reasons. I own the rubric and share it with the students, at first with full editorial rights, which means they can then share their rubrics with those who are evaluating their documents. They, too, share with editorial rights so that their evaluators can leave scores and comments on the rubrics, while they share their written documents with comment rights only so that their evaluators can leave comments but not make changes to the document itself. This teaches students how to share their documents intelligently and safely, and it gives them useful feedback about their writing. Win-win.

Share Settings

After the students complete the peer reviews, it’s time for me to grade. I sweep through all the rubrics and unshare with all users except for the writers of the documents. Remember, I own the rubric, so I control who sees it and what they can do with it. I also change to View only the share rights for the student/s I’m about to grade. This way, they cannot change my comments or grade, and they cannot share the rubric with anyone else. I’m careful to protect the student’s grade, and in the four years I’ve been using this system, I’ve had no grades compromised yet. I’m confident that Google Spreadsheets is safe to use.

After I evaluate the document, I complete the rubric, filling in a number for each rubric criterion, and Google calculates the final score and assigns a letter grade—very handy.

Google Spreadsheet

When we meet for individual conferences in the classroom, then the student and I have a fairly detailed matrix of criteria that help us understand each other and that guide the student’s revision to the document. Uhh … you do use revision, don’t you? That’s when students learn how to write: AFTER you help them see what was strong and weak about their document. And when I regrade the document, I modify the same rubric still accessible for viewing by the student. And of course, as with all things Google, the student can see the feedback immediately upon my completing it, without having to wait for the next class. Students like that kind of access.

Google Spreadsheet is a handy way for me to manage the onerous task of grading student writing and providing students with useful feedback. I think you’ll like it.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, me and the sysop.

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